The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2011 - Stellar Indie Gems
by Alex Billington
February 22, 2012
The best of the best - that you didn't see. It's back again and we're a bit late, but with the Oscars coming up, perfect timing once again. Back by popular demand is our fifth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2011 (you can find our past lists here: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked selection of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them some extra time in the spotlight, and to support some of the best filmmakers out there, we've put together a 2011 recap. Read on for the list!
I would like to encourage everyone to watch at least one of these that they haven't heard of (or didn't see) beforehand. If you spend the two hours or so that it will take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmakers who put so much time and effort into making each of these movies. This isn't about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this article is about pointing out movies that don't deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched. So pick one and watch it tonight.
A Better Life
Opened on June 24, 2011
Directed by Chris Weitz
A Mexican gardener in East L.A. struggles to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents while trying to give his son the opportunities he never had.
Why it's on here: For the lead performance alone. Demián Bichir, who nabbed a surprise Best Actor Oscar nomination for A Better Life, certainly deserves it for his role as a struggling father just trying to provide a better life for his son and the hell he goes through when someone steals his work truck. It's a subtly beautiful yet powerful film, that even impressed Guy Ritchie quite a bit, and I think it's worth seeking out and watching simply to honor the brilliance on display with Bichir. The scene at the end where he's speaking to his son will make anyone cry. One of the most heartwarming films that simply couldn't get any traction this year.
Opened on May 6, 2011
Directed by Jodie Foster
A troubled husband and executive adopts a beaver hand-puppet as his sole means of communicating.
Why it's on here: There's a reason this film made my list of the Top 10 Films of 2011, and that's because this is one of the most underrated films of the year, possibly of the decade. Not only is it evidence that Mel Gibson still has some powerful acting chops, despite his public foibles, but Jodie Foster makes an amazing return to director's chair after over a decade away from it. A story that is darkly funny but strikingly poignant with an approach to depression that hasn't been brought to the big screen before courtesy of a phenomenal script by Kyle Killen. There's a reason Ms. Foster is sending screeners of the film to members of the Academy and that's because it deserves to be seen by everyone, even if it doesn't win any awards. (Written by Ethan)
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Opened on October 21, 2011
Directed by Constance Marks & Philip Shane
The Muppet Elmo is one of the most beloved characters among children across the globe. Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet - the heart and soul of Elmo - Kevin Clash.
Why it's on here: A story of true inspiration and dedication, this documentary touched my heart when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2011. Not only does it show a miraculous series of events and opportunities for an aspiring puppeteer, but it shows Kevin Clash's struggles and sacrifices as he quickly gains much fame and recognition for bringing the fuzzy red Sesame Street puppet Elmo to life. Seeing how happy children of all ages and races become at the sight of Clash and Elmo is enough to make this the feel-good film of the year, but there's so much more to bring a smile to your face from this charming film. It's also available on Netflix Instant so check it out now! (Written by Ethan)
Opened on March 11, 2011
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
In Tuscany to promote his latest book, a middle-aged British writer meets a French woman who leads him to the village of Lucignano. While there, a chance question reveals something deeper.
Why it's on here: To make you think. Really think. It might even frustrate you. And, if it's doing what it's set out to do, it will lose you… if only for a bit. But when it catches you, reaching its hand toward yours just fingertips away from careening off that cliff, you'll stop watching a movie and become lost in an experience. You'll no longer be watching Juliette Binoche and William Shimell or the characters they play, but, instead, the characters their characters are playing. Copies of themselves. Facsimiles. Reminiscent of Linklater's Before Sunrise, Certified Copy will compel you to question reality, fantasy, and that space between both where we most often interface. (Written by Brandon Tenney/@Brotodeau)
The Devil's Double
Opened on July 29, 2011
Directed by Lee Tamahori
A chilling vision of the House of Saddam Hussein comes to life through the eyes of the man who was forced to become the double of Hussein's sadistic son.
Why it's on here: Another film worth seeing simply for the performances - both of them! Dominic Cooper plays two separate lead roles in this, two twins, and it's remarkable to see, he is extraordinary. While the movie itself is occasionally over-the-top in its dialogue (since it is in English), it's an intense and riveting look at the crazy lives of Saddam Hussein's sadistic son and his household, and Cooper is part of what makes it so damn interesting. There definitely is as much gold as is on the poster, and plenty more craziness. This also couldn't get much traction despite many glowing reviews and endless praise for Cooper, who should probably be winning awards for his double-performance.
Everything Must Go
Opened on May 13, 2011
Directed by Dan Rush
When an alcoholic relapses, causing him to lose his wife and his job, he holds a yard sale on his front lawn in an attempt to start over. A new neighbor might be the key to his return to form.
Why it's on here: One of those "Will Ferrell was in something that's not a comedy?" kind of indie discoveries, but it's actually pretty good. Everything Must Go was a blacklist script that ended up just being directed by its writer, Dan Rush, and stars Will Ferrell as a guy who comes home to find everything he owns on his front lawn. His wife left, he lost his job, and is locked out, so he starts living right there and befriends a neighborhood kid as his helper. It's a good script, the film is solid, and it also stars the beautiful, knocks-me-out Rebecca Hall, and is lightly amusing, with dramatic notes. A light watch that if you let the script play like it should, you'll appreciate, especially with Ferrell because he does give such a great, unique performance in the end.
I Saw the Devil
Opened on March 4, 2011
Directed by Kim Ji-woon
When his pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent blurs the line between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge.
Why it's on here: One of the darkest, and perhaps bloodiest, on the list this year, but ohh so good, and ohh so dark. This Korean film is about a detective who pretty much goes insane when his girlfriend is killed by a serial killer and he goes after him in very sadistic ways. Yea it takes some awesome twists and turns, it's the kind of Korean film, like Oldboy or The Chaser, that you've just got to see because it's so phenomenally well-made, yet so bloody, violent, and just nightmarish, but that's why it's such brilliant cinema. Kim Ji-woon is now making his first US film, The Last Stand, but before you see that get acquainted with some of his original work, like this. Lee Byung-hun (J.S.A., A Bittersweet Life, Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe) is great in it.
Opened on October 21, 2011
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
When an African boy arrives by cargo ship in the port city of Le Havre, an aging shoe shiner takes pity on the child and welcomes him into his home.
Why it's on here: For a taste of some French charm and hospitality. This charming film takes place in the French sea port city of Le Havre, where an elderly shoe shiner, played by André Wilms, takes in an African immigrant boy who has lost his family, and helps him find his way while keeping the police off their tracks. It's a fun French comedy, almost a fable. The performances are all wonderful, the whole film just a delight to watch, a joy for anyone who finds it. If you're already familiar with Aki Kaurismäki, then you know what to expect, otherwise have fun with this one - it's guaranteed to make you smile.
Opened on October 28, 2011
Directed by Drake Doremus
A British college student falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she's banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa.
Why it's on here: To show you how to fall in love again. This honest, beautiful, raw portrait of a young couple in love, and what it's like to go through hardships like long distance disconnects, was instantly one of my favorites after seeing it at Sundance last year and has stuck with my ever since. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones play two college kids, and it feels as if director Drake Doremus captured a real look at these two falling in love, and presents it in a fresh, captivating, emotional way. Give it a chance, let it sweep you away like it swept me away, and you may find yourself falling head-over-heels for Felicity (or Anton) because of how honest and exquisite their performances are. A stellar romantic portrait that is well worth falling in love with.
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